Framework Laptop 16 review: A modular marvel, but a mediocre gaming laptop

I learned quickly that I wasn’t a fan of typing for too long on a left-aligned keyboard, so I yanked everything out and center-aligned the keyboard and trackpad instead. Instead of blank metal spacers around the keyboard, I installed some customizable LED modules, which basically exist to look pretty. That took me just two minutes. The keyboard, by the way, is wonderful to type on, with 1.5mm of key travel and a soft landing that easily dampens my heavy typing. The trackpad is also smooth to the touch and has a responsive click. It’s so great that I have to wonder how some Windows laptops still ship with frustrating touchpads — I’m looking at you, ZenBook 14 OLED.

There’s so much to love about the Framework Laptop 16, I was genuinely bummed to discover that it was a fairly mediocre gaming machine, at least for its high price. Across multiple games and benchmarks, it fell in line with laptops sporting NVIDIA’s RTX 4060 GPU, a card typically found in systems starting around $1,000 (and sometimes less). Framework isn’t completely out of line, though, Razer still sells the Blade 16 for $2,500 (down from $2,699). Remember, you’re paying for the magic of customizability, not just raw performance.

Our review unit included the Radeon GPU module, the Ryzen 7 chip, 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD, which would all cost at least $2,144 to configure. (That doesn’t include the cost of expansion cards or additional input modules.) For that amount of money, I really would have liked to see more than 61fps on average while playing Halo Infinite in 1440p with Ultra graphics settings. In Cyberpunk, I hit 53fps on average with maxed out graphics and mid-range ray tracing settings. Both games fared better in 1080p — 85fps in Halo and 76fps in Cyberpunk with the same settings — but still, those are numbers I’d typically only put up with in a budget gaming laptop.

As for benchmarks, the Framework Laptop 16 scored 200 points less than the Razer Blade 18 with an RTX 4060 in 3DMark’s TimeSpy Extreme. And as usual, the AMD GPU still lagged behind in the Port Royal ray tracing demo. Still, the Laptop 16 held up decently in the broader PCMark 10 benchmark, which tests productivity apps and not just gaming. The Framework machine hit a score of 8,129, putting it alongside some of the fastest machines we saw last year (it even beat out the Blade 18, which was running a beefy Intel i9-13950HX CPU).

While I would have liked to see higher numbers across the board, the Framework Laptop 16’s 16-inch screen was at least a joy to behold throughout my testing. It’s an LED panel running at 2,560 by 1,600 pixels with a 165Hz refresh rate, a respectable 500 nits of brightness and 100-percent DCI-P3 color gamut coverage. The display made the neon-soaked world of Cyberpunk pop more than usual, though it certainly didn’t have the extra brightness of MiniLED screens or the eye-searing contrast of OLED panels. At the risk of repeating myself, the beauty of this screen is that you can yank it off the laptop in a few minutes and replace it if your kid damages it, or if Framework releases new modules. (Again, big if there.)

Framework Laptop 16
The Framework’s left speaker.

Photo by Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

Personally, I’d also eagerly swap out the Laptop 16’s 3-watt speakers the instant Framework offers upgrades. They’re serviceable, but given what Apple and Dell offer these days, they feel almost insulting. Music sounds far too tinny, and they can barely even convey the faux drama of a typical movie trailer. I’m sure most people would use headphones while gaming, but if you’re the sort of person who relies on your laptop speakers for music, I beg you to consider other options.

I’d also recommend some sort of noise blocking solution that can overpower the Laptop 16’s fans. While I was gaming and benchmarking the system, I could swear it was about to lift off like my DJI drone. The fans are louder than any gaming laptop I’ve encountered over the past few years, but at least they did their job. CPU temps stayed around 80 degrees Celsius under load, while the GPU typically stayed under 70C.

Since it’s a huge gaming laptop, I didn’t expect much battery life from the Framework Laptop 16, and I was right: It lasted for four hours and five minutes in the PCMark 10 “Modern Office” battery benchmark. I saw similar results while writing this review, and as you’d expect, it lasted around two hours playing a demanding game like Halo Infinite.

Framework Laptop 16

Photo by Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

Much like the original Framework notebook, the Laptop 16 is meant for a niche group of PC users, those who prioritize customizability and upgradability at all costs. If you’re a gamer trying to get the most frames for your dollar, this isn’t really the machine for you (consider these budget gaming PCs, or wait to see how we feel about the Zephyrus G14 in our review). But if you want a notebook that could last you for the next decade, and don’t mind so-so gaming performance, the Laptop 16 could be the notebook of your dreams.

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